The first visit we made to a volunteer’s site during training, I swear I regressed back to childhood and became afraid of the dark again. We arrived to the site in the dark so had no bearings and what types of animals or “bichos” (generic for any insect or unknown animal) would be lurking in the shadows. After tales of bats – one of which got disoriented by a fan and beat its wing into the face of our host, scorpions – some of which are the size of your hand and a story about how a spider which died our host’s ear (who was told by the PC doctor to leave it there and it would disintegrate and exit naturally), we were not prepared to go to sleep. Not only was it hot, but we were thinking and dreading the worst and did not have a flashlight with us for when we needed to get up and go to the bathroom or get water.
In the middle of the night, my wife and I were startled awake by something which crawled across our legs. My heart palpitated rapidly and I became over-sensitized to every slight sound or movement around me. My wife’s concurrence regarding the unknown animal which scurried over us only underscored the validity of my worst fears. We sat and clutched each other for what must have been an hour and placed a small sheet over us should the same thing happen, despite the fact that we were already both overly hot and having a hard time getting to sleep.
When we needed to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, we waited until we couldn’t wait any longer. Not only did we not know where the light was, but we also had no idea where we had placed our flip-flops and who knows what we might step on as we fumble blindly through the room searching for a way to illuminate our way through the lurking shadows.
My wife managed to find her way to turn on the light while I clutched her hand only to find that the room was empty (except us of course) and we were able to do our business and eventually fell asleep again, light as it would be. Welcome to Peace Corps, Costa Rica! However, this first visit turned out to be very useful in preparing us for our new site in terms of the heat, the bugs and some “basic training.”
Rule #1: Always know where you put your slippers should you have to get up in the middle of the night and you don’t have light.
Rule #2: Always keep a source of light close to you (flashlight or know where to find the wall switch).
Now that we’ve been in our site for almost a month, we’re not fazed by large flying cockroaches (well, at least we know they are not going to kill us), huge toads which like to hang outside our door when it rains, and large grasshoppers, beetles, cicadas or crickets of varying sizes and Martian quality. We do have a great deal of respect for snakes, which we’ve been told are plenty, although we’ve only seen one that is venomous so far, knock on wood. We make sure to keep our “foco,”or flashlight, with us handy at all times, scan it in front of us when walking at night, make sure to keep an eye at our feet when walking through the thick underbrush or “mata” and always wear boots and long pants when walking in the “campo” or countryside. But, that’s not to say that the next time I run into something unknown I’m not going to run wildly and scream at the top of my lungs like a girl.